Ordinary Chinese are less satisfied with their lives and with their government now than in previous years, and experts are warning that mounting labor disputes and rising prices could bring further social unrest.
A recent policy paper released by the prestigious China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) shows that people are less and less able to cope with rising prices, with researchers warning that a failure to rein in inflation could spark instability.
China also faces mounting labor unrest, highlighted by a string of worker suicides at Taiwan-invested electronics factory Foxconn in recent months, all of which government officials are ill-equipped to handle, experts said at the launch of the "blue paper" policy report in Beijing.
Chen Guangjin, deputy director of the sociology department at CASS, said that people's level of satisfaction with their lives and with the government, has fallen over the course of the year.
"If this is sustained over a certain length of time—for example, two or three or more years—then it is likely to bring with it social instability and diminishing levels of confidence in society," Chen said.
Beijing Science and Technology University professor Hu Xingdou said labor disputes need more democratic handling, especially in cases involving the official trade union.
"It's probably because the union representatives are part of the company, so they have a huge vested interest," Hu said.
"Union officials should ... be made completely independent. But of course this isn't easy to achieve," he said.
'Struggling to cope'
A People's Bank of China poll in the last quarter of 2010 found that people in China's cities and towns are at their most dissatisfied level in 11 years.
Almost 70 percent of respondents said they are struggling to cope with rising prices. Two-thirds expect the situation to get worse in the next quarter, the survey reported.
Residential property prices in particular are causing problems for the majority of respondents, it said.
Hu said ordinary Chinese have been hit by skyrocketing food prices, which have seen a rise of up to 50 percent for some commodities in recent months.
"People's income growth is actually rather slow, unlike the figures reported by the National Bureau of Statistics," he said.
"On top of that, prices just keep on rising, way above the levels that are reflected in the consumer price index," Hu added.
China already sees thousands of "mass incidents" across the country every year, according to official statistics, many of which are protests or sit-ins linked to forced eviction, allegations of corruption, and disputes over rural land.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.